The Survivors: Seversky P-35 – In Pursuit Of Success

The Seversky P-35 single seat pursuit aircraft was developed in the 1930’s and became the first all-metal monoplane fighter with an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear for the US Army Air Corps (USAAC). 77 P-35’s were ordered by the USAAC for delivery between 1937-38 (76 P-35’s were delivered and the 77th was converted to the improved XP-41 prototype that did not go into production). No further orders were placed by the USAAC as delivery from Seversky had been slow and the US government were also not too happy the company had sold 20 Seversky 2PA two-seat fighter-bomber aircraft to the Imperial Japanese Navy  in 1939! The USAAC went with the Curtiss P-36 Hawk instead.

USAAC Seversky P-35 single seat pursuit aircraft in the late 1930's
USAAC Seversky P-35 single seat pursuit aircraft in the late 1930’s (USAAC photo via aviarmor.net)
USAAC Seversky P-35 in flight
USAAC Seversky P-35 in flight (USAAC photo)

In early 1939 Alexander P. de Seversky himself took a demonstrator aircraft to Europe to spruik the fighter to European buyers but only Sweden placed an order. 120 EP-106 variants (European Pursuit 106) were produced for export to Sweden in 1940. The EP-106 was fitted with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-45 radial piston engine with 1,050 hp (the original P-35 was fitted with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-9 radial piston engine with 850 hp). Unfortunately for Seversky, in 1940 he was  fired from the company by the board of directors, and his namesake became Republic Aviation!

Only 60 EP-106 fighters were delivered to Sweden though, due to a June 1940 US arms embargo on all aircraft deliveries to Europe other than Great Britain, out of the fear they may end up in Axis hands. The remaining 60 were acquired by the USAAC and redesignated as the P-35A. 6 were exported to Ecuador to form their first fighter squadron.

Although of rugged construction, ultimately the P-35/P-35A was entering a modern world of air warfare in which it was too slow (P-35A top speed 467 km/h / 290 mph), lacked armour protection, had no self-sealing fuel tanks and was poorly armed (originally the P-35 had just 1 x 0.50 and 1 x 0.30 calibre machine gun enclosed in the engine cowling, the Swedish P-35A had 2 x 13.2 mm guns in the engine cowling and added 2 x 7.9 mm machine guns in the wings. The USAAC P-35A’s were fitted with 2 x 0.50 cal’s in the engine cowling and 2 x 0.30 calibre machine guns in the wings). These types of aircraft were soon superseded by more capable aircraft anyway, such as the Curtis’s P-40 Warhawk.

A Seversky P-35 at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory at Hampton, Virginia in August 1935. NACA
A Seversky P-35 at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory at Hampton, Virginia in August 1935. The P-35 arrived for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) use in April 1939.

A few USAAC P-35A’s were retained in the US for training purposes and 48 were sent to the Philippines in early 1941 for training and air defence duties with the 3rd and 17th Pursuit Squadron at Del Carmen Field, Luzon, with the intention of transferring them to the Philippines Army Air Corps (PAAC) when replaced by P-40’s. Both squadrons ended up transferring most of their P-35A’s to the newly arrived 21st and 34th Pursuit Squadrons in November 1941 but the 21st soon received P-40’s and transferred their aircraft to the 34th. A few were lost in training accidents, then the Japanese invasion of the Philippines commenced on December 8th, 1941 and all hell broke loose!

USAAC Seversky P-35A aircraft in flight over the Philippines in 1941 - note the olive drab camo and wing guns
USAAC Seversky P-35A aircraft of the 34th Pursuit Squadron in flight over the Philippines in 1941 – note the olive drab camo and wing guns (USAAC photo via aviarmor.net)

The P-35A soon showed its inadequacy against modern Japanese fighters such as the Mitsubishi A6M Zero with losses in the air but most were destroyed or badly damaged whilst sitting on the ground – after the first few  days of fighting, only 8 of the 48 remained operational! The 34th Pursuit Squadron exacted some revenge (at great loss) on the Imperial Japanese Navy on December 10th, 1941 whilst strafing invasion shipping, damaging ships and boats, and even sinking the minesweeper W-10 (credited to Lt. Samuel H. Marrett who died in a crash as a result of the ships explosion, which tore off the wings of his aircraft! Marrett was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions)! All USAAC P-35A’s were lost in combat in the Philippines.

USAAC Seversky P-35A fighters destroyed on the ground during a Japanese air attack on Nichols Field, Luzon in the Philippines on December 10th, 1941
USAAC Seversky P-35A fighters destroyed on the ground during a Japanese air attack on Nichols Field, Luzon Philippines on December 10th, 1941 (USAF photo) – The machine guns appear to have been removed from the wings after the attack

The 60 EP-106 fighters delivered to Sweden in 1940 were designated as the J 9 (the first came via the port of Trondheim, Norway. The rest had to be shipped via a Finnish arctic port, as Germany had invaded Norway). Although technically outdated, they were faster and better equipped than Swedish biplane fighters then in service (plus the enclosed cockpit would have been great appreciated in Winter!). They were deployed in the air defence of Stockholm and served with the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) in a fighter role until 1946. A number soldiered on in recon role with a camera installed behind the pilot and others were deployed in training roles, until the last 7 were retired in 1952.

Swedish Seversky EP-106 (J 9 / P-35A) fighters
Swedish Seversky EP-106 (J 9 / P-35A) fighters (Photo via the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Survivors

It is reported that only 3 Seversky P-35 aircraft exist today. One, a P-35A (J 9) can be found in the Swedish Air Force Museum in Malmen near Linköping and the other 2 are in the USA. I have been lucky enough to see all of these aircraft in person.

The Swedish survivor entered service in July 1940 and was in operation until retired in 1948. Fortunately it was earmarked for preservation in 1948 and allocated to the Flight Historical Collection at Malmen.

Seversky EP-106, designated J 9 in Swedish service (P-35A in the US) at the Swedish Air Force Museum in Malmen near Linköping
Seversky EP-106, designated J 9 in Swedish service (P-35A in the US) at the Swedish Air Force Museum in Malmen near Linköping during my visit to the museum in November 2017
Sweden operated the Seversky EP-106 / J 9 from 1940 to 1952. The example at the Swedish Air Force Museum was retired in 1948.
Sweden operated the Seversky EP-106 / J 9 from 1940 to 1952. The example at the Swedish Air Force Museum was retired in 1948.

P-35 Serial Number 36-404 is on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. It is the only original P-35 left. It served with the 94th Pursuit Squadron from the 1st Pursuit Group based at Selfridge Field in Michigan but is painted in the markings of a P-35A flown by 1st Lt. Buzz Wagner, the commander of the 17th Pursuit Squadron in the Philippines in the Spring of 1941.

Seversky P-35 (Serial Number 36-404) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio 2009
Seversky P-35 (Serial Number 36-404) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio during my visit in 2009
Seversky P-35 (Serial Number 36-404) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio during my visit in 2009
Seversky P-35 (Serial Number 36-404) at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio during my visit in 2009. It sports markings of a P-35A though as based in the Philippines in 1941

Kermit Weeks is restoring a Swedish P-35A (J 9) for his Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City, Florida. It was converted in Sweden for photo reconnaissance work at the end of World War Two and retired from reconnaissance flying Circa 1948/49, it was then used as a liaison aircraft and squadron hack before a forced landing put it out of service in 1950. The aircraft then spent the next two decades in and out of storage, superficially done up and rolled out for air shows here and there, until it was donated and transported from Sweden to the USAF Museum in 1971, and eventually into the possession of Kermit.

Swedish Air Force photo of a Seversky J 9 (P-35A) formation - No.17 is the aircraft being restored by Kermit Weeks.
Swedish Air Force photo of a Seversky J 9 (P-35A) formation – No.17 is the aircraft being restored by Kermit Weeks.

The internal airframe is reported to be in good condition but all the exterior skin is being replaced. Although a Swedish Air Force fighter, it will be displayed in USAAC Philippines 1941 livery and markings. I saw this aircraft in 2009 as a work in progress when the Fantasy of Flight Museum was regularly open to the public.

A former Swedish Air Force Seversky J 9 (P-35A) under restoration at the Fantasy of Flight Museum Kermit Weeks
A former Swedish Air Force Seversky J 9 (P-35A) under restoration at the Fantasy of Flight Museum during my visit to Florida in 2009
A former Swedish Air Force Seversky J 9 (P-35A) under restoration at the Fantasy of Flight Museum during my visit to Florida in 2009
A former Swedish Air Force Seversky J 9 (P-35A) under restoration at the Fantasy of Flight Museum during my visit to Florida in 2009. Despite its Swedish heritage this one will be presented in USAAC Philippines markings Circa 1941. That’s a US Navy Grumman F6F Hellcat in the background.

There is also a 2 seat Seversky AT-12 Guardsman trainer (Serial Number 483-38), at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. The trainer variant was developed alongside the P-35. This was one of 52 Seversky 2PA two-seat fighter-bomber aircraft ordered by Sweden (designated B 6) but only 2 were delivered, with the rest going to the USAAC after the 1940 arms embargo. They were rearmed and redesignated as the AT-12 for USAAC service. It is the only flyable AT-12 in the world.

Seversky 2PA two-seat fighter-bomber aircraft
Seversky 2PA two-seat fighter-bomber aircraft (Photo via the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
Seversky AT-12 Guardsman on the flightline at the Sunday Planes of Fame Airshow 2015
Seversky AT-12 Guardsman on the flightline at the Sunday Planes of Fame Airshow 2015 (my photos)
Seversky AT-12 Guardsman takes of for a flying display Planes of Fame 2015
Seversky AT-12 Guardsman takes off for a flying display at the Planes of Fame Airshow 2015 (my photos)
Curtiss P-36 Hawk & Seversky AT-12 Guardsman formation at Planes of Fame Airshow 2015
Curtiss P-36 Hawk & Seversky AT-12 Guardsman formation at Planes of Fame Airshow 2015 (my photo)

Although not overly successful as a fighter, the Seversky P-35 inspired at least one  aircraft design team in Italy. More on that in my next post.

References:

Joe Baugher – Seversky P-35

Kermit Weeks Facebook Page – P-35 Restoration Post

National Museum of the US Air Force – Seversky P-35 Fact Sheet

Planes Of Fame – Seversky AT-12

Swedish Air Force Museum

The 456th Fighter Interceptor Squadron – Seversky P-35

The Aviation History Online Museum – Seversky P-35

The Java Gold’s Blog – Lt. Sam Marett & the Seversky P-35

Wikipedia – Seversky P-35

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9 thoughts on “The Survivors: Seversky P-35 – In Pursuit Of Success

    1. It takes its place in aviation history but like many from that mid to late 1930’s period was rapidly outdated – excluding the brilliant mid 1930’s designed Spitfire, Hurricane and Bf 109. That’s a US Navy Grumman F6F Hellcat in the background.

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